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The Birth of Cool: Why We’ll Always Love Jazz

When asked what the definition of jazz was, Louis Armstrong famously said, “If you’ve got to ask, then you’ll never know!”

Welcome to April, also known as Jazz Appreciation Month, which culminates in the United Nations-designated International Jazz Day on April 30. With the arguable exceptions of Mom, apple pie and westerns, jazz is the quintessential emblem of American culture. Further, this exclusively American music and art form is one of our greatest contributions to world culture, influencing nearly every modern form of music, from bebop and swing to rock-and-roll and hip-hop.

This month, we’re feeling nostalgic for some of the great jazz records of the 1950s—Miles Davis’s “Kind of Blue,” John Coltrane’s “Blue Train,” Dave Brubeck’s “Time Out.” Billie Holliday, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins—that was quite a decade, and an era many of our residents remember fondly.

In fact, many of our residents came of age in this era. While we work hard to provide our residents activities for today, with all the latest conveniences and technologies, we also appreciate the culture of yesteryear and are excited to take a step back to “the birth of cool” and reflect on the story of jazz.

A Little History

We researched the history of jazz to celebrate the month. Whether you were one of the cool cats, nodding and listening in the underground clubs, or you simply have an appreciation for this magnificent art form, take a few moments to get to know the story of jazz.

Jazz was invented in New Orleans in the late 1800s, evolving from the ragtime piano tunes of turn-of-the-century America. Together with the Dixieland funeral music, this new, "syncopated" music popularized a sound that took America by storm, crossing into the mainstream via Chicago and New York City in the 1920s (which became is known as the Jazz Age).

One of the most common places to find jazz was at illegal speakeasies, where they would still serve alcohol during prohibition, leading to jazz having an association with rebellion and anti-establishment movements.

A distinguishing aspect of jazz is the use of improvisation. Musical notes are “bent” by the instruments to create emotions. Drums, guitar, piano, saxophone, trumpet, clarinet, trombone, and double bass, all work together to create a rhythm, using an overriding melody and structure, but making it up as they go along.

Join the Celebration

We invite you to join us in remembering the classic numbers by Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Nat “King” Cole, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington Kid Ory's Original Creole Jazz Band, the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, Miles Davis, and so many more. Take time this month to dance the Charleston, the shimmy or the trot—or just listen and snap your fingers. Whatever you do, we hope you take some time to appreciate this amazing genre.

To get you started, try this quiz. How many of these jazz terms can you define?

  • Axe
  • Cat
  • Dig
  • Hep
  • Skins Player
  • Gig
  • Finger Zinger
  • Rusty Gate
  • Chops
  • Crib
  • Bread
  • Blow

Answers: 1. A term for a musical instrument. 2. A jazz musician. 3. To know or understand something. 4. Someone who is cool. 5. A drummer. 6. A paying music job. 7. Someone who can play very fast. 8. A jazz musician who isn’t very good. 9. Someone who can play an instrument well. 10. Where a musician lives or sleeps. 11. Money. 12. Playing an instrument.